Are you utilizing the best outreach technology?

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3 significant developments in outreach technology

One of the top priorities for nonprofits is engaging with their supporters and building relationships. It’s no surprise, then, that interest is surging in technology that can help nonprofits do just that. How can your organization maximize the potential of current technology tools and avoid wasting time with passing fads? Let’s look at what’s working.

Going mobile

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 58% of American adults had a smartphone as of January 2014, and 42% had a tablet computer (a dramatic jump from only 4% in September 2010). As of May 2013, Pew reports, 63% of adult cell phone owners used the Internet on their phones —  twice as many as four years earlier. And 34% of the cell Internet users said that they mostly use their phones to go online, as opposed to using a desktop or laptop computer.

With mobile Internet access poised to surpass that of conventional computers in the coming years, some nonprofits are wisely taking steps now to develop mobile websites and apps. Why do you need a mobile-specific website? Imagine a supporter who receives an e-mail call to action on his phone and immediately clicks through to your regular site, only to find that it’s difficult to read and use on his phone’s small screen. That’s a lost opportunity — one that will only multiply as users increasingly rely on phones for their online communications.

Mobile websites and apps provide your supporters with information at their fingertips and allow them to act, including donating, on the go. As with any type of online transaction, of course, it’s important to establish strong internal controls to protect users’ data and privacy and prevent the fraudulent misappropriation of funds.

Leveraging social networks

Mobile websites and apps also can help nonprofits leverage their supporters’ social networks. The past few years have taught many organizations the critical role that social networks can play in spreading their missions to wider audiences than ever and attracting new supporters and donors.

Some may have initially scoffed at the idea that Facebook or Twitter could provide real value. But few can argue with the power of social media at this point, particularly for nonprofits. It’s an indisputable fact that people are much more likely to engage with organizations endorsed by friends, families and trusted sources.

That’s one reason why peer-to-peer fundraising has taken off in recent years. Thanks to social media, it’s much easier for participants in your 5K race, cycling event or dance-a-thon to drum up financial support for their efforts. By providing social media tools as part of your registration materials, you empower your participants to personalize their pitches and meet or surpass their — and your — fundraising goals. Again, though, you’ll need to have proper internal controls in place, such as firewalls, encryption and other protections for credit card data.

Social media also allows nonprofits to easily and cost-effectively participate in back-and-forth, multiparty conversations, rather than just one-way communications. A single posting might elicit numerous enthusiastic responses that can snowball as the posting is passed along by readers with a click of a button.

Expanding Web presence

Engaging in social media doesn’t mean you can afford to neglect your existing website, though. Instead, savvy nonprofits are expanding their Web presence.

Your website visitors should find a simple, secure way to donate, as well as a range of compelling content that will bring them back again and again. Online videos, for example, offer effective, inexpensive opportunities to tell your organization’s story and mobilize viewers. Partnering with an experienced Web-design firm to improve your online presence can be an investment with results measuring far greater than the cost.

Sink or swim

The tools listed above are by no means the only technological advances that can pay off for your organization or enhance your outreach efforts. Nonprofits are also turning to cloud computing, social analytics and software that produce solid financial metrics. Such advances are no longer a luxury — they’re a matter of survival. If your organization has lagged behind, now is the time to jump into the water. 

SKR+CO Expert
Ellen Fisher, CPA, Audit Partner
Ellen has been in public accounting since 1997. She specializes in employee benefit plans, real estate and construction, financial institutions, nonprofits and small to mid-size businesses.